Monthly Archives: February 2017

Quiet Condo May Not Be the Ideal Home for a Musician

A.M. from British Columbia, Canada writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have been renting condos for five years and just moved into a new one about two months ago. We have suddenly received two notes on our door as well as a formal complaint regarding “bass-heavy music” within the last two weeks. The neighbour complaining lives below our unit. My partner makes music for a living, so his job involves playing projects out loud on studio monitors (which are designed to play music accurately) in order to mix and master. One day we played music for only 5 minutes and the next morning, I found a note on the door. He already limits when he plays music to typical working hours so as not to disturb neighbours. The volume is set to an ordinary listening level, we do not own a subwoofer (although the neighbour below thinks we do), and my partner makes an effort to complete as much work as he can on headphones. They have also complained about our footsteps, but our building has laminate wood floors and we can hear creaking from footsteps and other noises from the unit above us all the time. Is the noise we make considered “reasonable?” If so, how can we get the neighbour to stop standing outside our door listening, leaving notes, and complaining to Strata? Since we are renting, I would really like to avoid being fined and having our landlord think we are bad tenants! Thanks in advance.

Mister Condo replies:

A.M., loud noises and condos (strata for my Canadian readers) don’t mix. I assume your landlord gave you a copy of the rules and regulations for your new rental. While I doubt there is a specific provision about “bass-heavy music”, there are very likely rules about noise levels and time of days specifically set aside as quiet hours. The issue is that you and your neighbor have different ideas about what noises are and aren’t acceptable. You both have the right to peaceable enjoyment of your unit so the real question is where do your rights end and theirs begin? Regardless of what type of music monitoring system your partner is using it is quite possible that the decibel level is simply too high for doing that type of work in the condo. You mentioned headphones and that is a perfect solution, in my opinion, because there is no possibility of the sound disturbing anyone. The noise from walking across floors is another story and I can’t imagine any Board issuing a fine for that type of noise violation unless the condo rules state that hardwood or laminate floors must be covered by carpets to avoid excess noise from neighbors walking around their units. My advice is to use the headphones exclusively when performing the music work. Considerate neighbors are priceless in such tight living quarters. Thank you for your letter.

Blowback from Adding an External Vent to a Condo Unit

K.R. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am on the second floor of a two-story condominium. I am in the process of planning a kitchen renovation, and as part of the project I would like to have an externally-vented exhaust fan. The range hood that I currently have simply blows the air back into the room, but I had assumed that I could connect it externally if I wanted to. I have been informed that to vent it to the roof I will need the Board’s permission and I may also need to file an “obligation to maintain” with the County so that I would be responsible for any future issues (eg. leaks).  Also, I currently have an externally-vented bathroom exhaust fan, so I don’t see why this would be treated any differently. My questions: Aren’t externally-vented kitchen exhaust fans required by code? Wouldn’t a non-externally vented fan create health & safety concerns? Are there any legal considerations if they deny my request?

Mister Condo replies:

K.R., generally speaking, all modifications to your unit are subject to Board approval. Anything that you are doing that modifies any common element is strictly under the Board’s control and installing an externally-vented exhaust fam for your kitchen will most certainly require their approval. Be sure to get all the approvals needed BEFORE starting your project because the Board can force you to remove the installation if they do not approve which can cost you dearly. I am not an expert on HVAC or ventilation issues but I do know that exhaust fans that vent internally and clean the air via filter are fairly common in many condos. That doesn’t help with your odor issue if you are cooking but the filtration system does help. My guess is that the condo unit was built to the code at the time for exhaust fans. If that code did not call for external ventilation, there was no foul on the part of the developer. If current code does call for that kind of ventilation, that could be used in your argument to persuade the Board to allow it now. That being said, ask politely and hope for a good outcome. Don’t be surprised if the request is denied. If they approve your installation, they are opening themselves up to others and then there becomes a whole new issue of external vent conformity and maintenance. Good luck!

Injured at the Condo; Reluctant to Sue Owner

B.C. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I fell down the stairs right outside my condo. Everyone is saying to sue, but I rent from a private owner. I am afraid of repercussions. I like where I live but will need surgery and medical bills are piling. I know I have case. Any words of wisdom?

Mister Condo replies:

B.C., I am sorry that you were injured at your condo. Since you wrote to me a while back, I hope that by now you are well on the mend. Regardless of who you are renting from you now have medical bills. It is time to speak to an attorney who will better advise you of your rights and the plausibility of your case. In this litigious world in which we live, lawsuits are quite commonplace. Injury cases, in particular, are heard every day in courtrooms around the country. Many are even settled out of court. However, few are litigated with the proper advice of a qualified local attorney. If your part of the country is like mine, you can see their ads all over town. I am sure there is one ready to assist you. It shouldn’t cost you your rental agreement but if it does, there are other places to live. There may be only one place for you to recover the financial debt this injury has caused you. Get well soon!

Why Does the Condo Have an Executive Board and a Board of Directors?

C.G. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have both an Executive Board and Board of Directors. Is it necessary to have both? Also, who comprises the Executive Board?

Mister Condo replies:

C.G., the association’s governance documents dictates the governing bodies for the corporation that is the condo association. It is necessary to have both as long as that is what the incorporation papers call for and both must hold meetings and keep Minutes from those meetings as called for in the by-laws. The question of who comprises the Executive Board is also spelled out in your condo documents. In my experience, Board of Directors are called for to govern either an entire complex or a division or phase of a complex. The latter is more common in larger communities that roll out over time. There are many of those here in our state. Once you have multiple associations within one complex, an Executive Board is also needed to handle the business of the association as a whole. Phase 1, 2, and 3 may need to purchase electricity or other utilities for the entire complex as a whole. That would be the purview of the Executive Board. Perhaps there is a clubhouse or other amenity that all unit owners have access to but is not under their Phase. Again, the Executive Board may take responsibility for the management and maintenance of that asset. Still other associations are simply top heavy in their governance and have an Executive Board as part of a single complex. In that case, the Executive Board may have a very specific function as outlined in the governance documents. Check your governance documents for more detail or consult with a community association attorney who can also advise you if your documents can be amended to do away with the Executive Board if it is truly unwarranted. Good luck!

Condo Owner with Irregular Personality Disorder Exhibits Disruptive Behavior

S.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What to do when owner refuses to listen to reason due to a psychological disorder that the family has no control over. Aside from an irregular personality disorder, they pay fees on time, just very disruptive daily, due to disorder.

Mister Condo replies:

S.H., this is an interesting question for several reasons. I am certainly sorry that you have a unit owner who is causing daily disruptions. I am sure the person living with the psychological disorder and his family face a daily struggle to manage. The only actions that can be taken by the association are to enforce the association’s rules about peaceful living. The term “disruption”, while polite, really doesn’t tell me too much about what is actually happening. Is the person abusive to other residents? Is association property being damaged? If no rules are being broken, then there isn’t too much the association can or should do. If rules are being broken, then the association has every right to serve notice, have a hearing, issue fines, and so on to enforce the association’s rules. Of course, this individual cannot be singled out as the only person breaking rules. If other unit owners are breaking the same rules, all need to be cited unless the association wishes to face possible discrimination charges from the unit owner or his family. My best advice is to look closely at your rules to determine if any are being broken. If they are, consult with the association’s attorney about the best way to enforce the rules without creating a discriminatory action. If the disruptive behavior ever gets to the point of assault or battery, it is time to call the police. Personality disorder or not, no unit owner has the right to abuse another unit owner. All the best!

Condo Roof Failure Leads to Unit Damage: Who is Responsible for Repair?

L.A. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I know the association is responsible for fixing roof leaks, but who is responsible for the damage done to inside ceiling from the roof leak?

Mister Condo replies:

L.A., I am sorry that you have had damage from a roof leak to your condo. As annoying as the original leak is, it is often the clean-up and repair that create the lingering problem. Typically, condo associations require unit owners to maintain a homeowner’s insurance policy that is designed to protect the owner in case of damage, and the association in case of unintentional damage caused by a failed common element, in your case, the roof. If you have this insurance, you simply contact your insurer to make a claim and the insurer should pay for your repair, less any deductible as called for in your policy. However, when claims get denied or mishandled, it is possible that a lawsuit or mediation of some kind may be necessary. I hope you had the right insurance and that your claim was handled properly. If not, it may be time to speak with an attorney. Good luck!

Florida Condo Walkways Made of Cork are Failing

 

L.S. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We hope to resurface the outdoor concrete walkways at our Florida condominium. It was originally covered with cork which is now peeling in many places. We want to cover the surface with a material stronger than paint. Has anyone had experience with this issue?

Mister Condo replies:

L.S., I have no personal experience with cork surfaces but I suspect it was a beautiful choice when first installed and has failed the test of time. Concrete is the most common and likely solution but my understanding is it cannot be simply installed over top of the cork so that means the cork will likely have to be removed. While I would ask my readers to weigh in with their experiences to help guide you my best advice up front would be to speak with a local contractor who specializes in such work. It will likely carry the cost of a new install plus the added expense of the removal of what is already there. There are several commercial concrete covering materials that are worth investigating to protect the concrete and add a splash of color. I have seen several at my local Home Depot and Lowes Home Improvement stores. Good luck!

What is a Condo 13th Month Assessment?

L.L. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We just had a 13th month fee. Then a fee increase and then last year another 13th month fee. At our June meeting, out self-managed trustees explained they will be seeking a loan for $125,000.00 to repair the parking lot.  Do you think this association has any financial problems?

Mister Condo replies:

L.L., your association has more than financial problems! For my readers who aren’t familiar with the term “13th month fee”, all me to give a quick tutorial. A 13th month fee is an extra month’s worth of common fees some associations have adopted as a way to build up their Reserve Fund. It amounts to a little over 8% of the annual common fees going to the Reserve Fund and it was devised by some clever-thinking folks as a fairly painless way to build Reserve Fund contributions. While I acknowledge the cleverness of the tactic, I neither condone nor recommend its use. For starters, it isn’t a part of the condo’s governance documents. Technically, it is a special assessment which has its own set of rules for levying and enforcing. It also masks an underlying problem of financial instability within the association. In other words, it is a band aid for a wound that requires stitches. Eventually, this wound will burst and be a much larger problem for the association.

The best plan for your association would be to have a straight talk conversation about the association’s need for a healthy Reserve Fund and its need to adhere to a Reserve Study indicating how much money will be needed and when. Then a reasonable budget could be constructed that will take this shortcoming into consideration and address it properly. Yes, common fees are going to go up but that is because they are artificially low right now. To eliminate the 13th month fee, they need to go up 8.33%. The dollar amount of fee increase needed to account for the Reserve Fund shortfall also needs to be calculated. Then the association can get itself back on track to good financial health that will benefit all of the unit owners. Good luck!

Is Handicapped Parking Required at My Condo?

M.L. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I will like to know if a condo association is required to have handicap parking space and how many? Condo is 173 units and built in 1986.

Mister Condo replies:

M.L., the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) does require handicapped parking and access for many public buildings and businesses. Further, some states have additional requirements for public properties to provide handicapped parking and access. However, for the most part, condominiums are not public property. They are typically private property and exempt from many of the requirements of the ADA. That being said, I am not an attorney and you would be wise to seek a legal opinion from a qualified local attorney who could give you a more definitive answer. Good luck!

Condo Association Money Spent on Private Property

B.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a condo board spend money on things are not part of our common area? They want to do something on private property. Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

B.M., without knowing all of the specifics it is difficult to give you a full answer. The Board is made up of volunteer leaders elected from within your condo association. As such, they are charged with governing your association, which includes how funds are spent from the common fees collected. If the Board has come to the conclusion that this means making an offsite expenditure, then they are likely within their rights to do so. However, all monies need to be accounted for and records need to be made available to all unit owners upon request. If they are spending $100 to be a sponsor in a local Little League or something civic in nature like that, there may be no foul. However, if they are spending thousands of dollars to construct a swimming pool at the property manager’s home, you have every right to be concerned. If you and other unit owners are concerned that your common fees are being misappropriated, it might be time to get some new Board members. They are elected to conduct association business and protect association assets. If they aren’t doing that, it’s time for some new Board members. All the best!